Everything You (N)ever Wanted to Know About Chiggers

Mosquitoes are a big problem for a good portion of the year, from when it begins to regularly warm up, until it frosts over in the fall.  And if you live in certain parts of the country, chiggers can be a big nuisance as well.  And there is a lot of misinformation and wives tales about chiggers, so I’ve compiled a short list of points of which I wanted clarification or verification.

Chiggers do not burrow under your skin, as many people believe, nor do they feed on animal blood. They actually feed on the fluids in skin cells. To get the fluids, they attach themselves to a skin pore or hair follicle and inject a digestive enzyme that ruptures the cells. The enzyme also hardens the surrounding skin tissue, forming a sort of straw for sucking the skin cell fluids. The whole process irritates the skin, causing an itchy red bump that continues to cause discomfort for several days. Chiggers are only about 1/50th of an inch (0.5 mm) in diameter and so are too small to be seen with the naked eye. This invisibility is the reason so many people believe chiggers burrow under the skin.

One commonly known remedy for chigger bites is to apply nail polish to reduce itchiness. This does not kill the chigger or treat the bite in any way. It simply seals the area off from the air, which keeps the sore from itching so badly. If you want to apply something to relieve itching, it’s much better to use a salve or cream that contains antihistamines.  (source)

 For humans, itching usually occurs after the larvae detach from the skin. (Wikipedia)

This summer I received a frantic call from a customer who thought his steps and sidewalk were being invaded by chiggers (sometimes called red bugs).  After listening to some more details I was able to diagnose over the phone that it was not chiggers but clover mites.  (source)

Feeling crawly?  There are a few reasons that could be, ranging from allergies, reactions to products, and, of course, biting insects or arthropods.

“Well, my bites don’t look like chigger bites,” you may say.  Sometimes chigger bites may look as innocuous as mosquito bites.

roslyn-lake-chiggers_1597

Or…. they may look like a porcupine exploded on your ankles and you spent the better part of a day pulling out quills.

chigger370_1

Generally, the adult chiggers eat vegetation; it’s the nymphs that tear some people up.

 They crawl onto people and move upward until they encounter a point of constriction between skin and clothing, such as around the ankles, behind the knee, or at the waistline. Chigger bites produce a hardened, red welt which begins to itch intensely within 24-48 hours after exposure to the mite. Consequently, people may not associate the irritation with the fact that they were bitten while walking outdoors a day or two before. Delayed irritation following a “bug” bite is also common with such pests as mosquitoes and ticks, as well as with the contact dermatitis which results from exposure to poison ivy/poison oak.

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Let me just reiterate…in case it wasn’t clear the first time, chiggers do not burrow under your skin.  For some reason, that is a myth a lot of people are loath to let go of.  For my part, I’d rather NOT think of bugs under my skin.

Chiggers can’t burrow. If left undisturbed, they’ll keep eating for several days. Even when attached, however, they’re easy to brush off — especially when taking a warm, soapy shower

People typically don’t feel chiggers, even when the mites insert their mouthparts. Humans’ first clue that chiggers are around usually comes 6 to 8 hours later, when the bites finally start to itch.

So, anyhoo…you’re very welcome for that grody public service announcement.  Hope it helped clear up any nagging arthropod questions you may be having.   Til next time…

Peace out.

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32 responses to “Everything You (N)ever Wanted to Know About Chiggers

  1. It’s funny, I live in the Deep South and I spend lots of time outdoors. I have never had a chigger bite me. I am also immune to poison ivy. Lucky right? No, I am deadly allergic to ticks. My doctor says that with the way I react to them, I would be dead in 48 hours. Everyone should stay vigilant this time of year. (Gross pictures btw)

      • So far only wood ticks and deer ticks. No lyme disease necessary. The last one I got was next to my belly button. Eight hours later I had a completely straight red line down to the lymph node in my hip. The next morning the node was the size of a robin egg. I started feeling sick by noon, got to the dr. at 4. Sepsis was setting in. He gave me steroids and antibiotics. The scars they leave on me are the size of dimes. So weird.

        • Holy shit. Deer ticks are the ones that carry Lyme. I hate to think what would have happened if it HAD had Lyme. Maybe it hit something important in there in your belly button…

  2. Maybe, but it has happened on my leg and on the bottom of my back too. I couldn’t see the red line, but I got sick and the wound festered for a few months afterward. I’m just a freak I guess. No other allergies though.

  3. Did you know that there is a tropical sand flea (Tunga penetrans) that’s also called chigger and DOES burrow under the skin? Hence the confusion maybe…

  4. Yeah! It’s almost a scary as that movie, “Prometheus”! Maybe w’ll see something like the “Chigger” or the “Jigger” in the sequel, but then a few sizes bigger! They seem to get there inspiration from real-life creatures…

  5. Pingback: Survival of the fittest | Watch My Garden Growing

    • OOOh, yeah! I heard something about them just the other day! It’s revolting, and there isn’t a heck of a lot we can do about them, is there?
      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  6. omg. for months I have battle some form od mites, the first break out intense i went to Er Walkin and they lookes at me and said “you have scabies.. “” i do what how in the hell, no blodd work nothing.. I took myself home, i knew they wernt scabies.. So they told me to see a Dermo ( way to much money i am on welfare) and some tropical creamI used the cream they gave me holly hell it burnd my skink .They cleard up then some time later it gor worse bitea, they were in my hair it was like my skull was on fire, i got headaches and they said” You are not listening to us we said dermi its insect bites. my heads continued and they ignored. for monrhs same thing, then my scalp starting burning and i was frantic, I have beeb sick several days in the months for months in, pest control after pest control and nothing, Evwryone told me i was crazy, its just fleas.. after seeing the first image on this page and see other similiariltes headaches, burning of scalp im see i solved the puzzle, Now im trumbling.. i cant get the hospistal to admit me and give me help, what do u advice.

    • Honey, I couldn’t begin to tell you how to deal with hospitals. They suck. All I know is if you go to ER, they don’t have to admit you on an in-patient basis but they have to treat you.

  7. I got chiggers initially from a dog my niece brought back from Missouri. Never having experienced these fuckers I thought I had bedbugs. I am highly sensitive to the bites as is my sister and my niece(coincidentally, we are all uncontrolled diabetics. Imtetesting) .No one else in the house could feel them. We had no clue because we lived in Boston. NO CLUE.exterminators and the DPH had no clue. They told us no bedbugs but we all had bites. After doing alot of research we figured it out but we couldn’t get anyone to come in and exterminate. They had no experience and didn’t know how. Point…. I have them again and I’m going through the same thing with exterminators. So it’s expensive but I have to do it myself again. My landlord thinks I’m crazy, but he has seen the bites. I’m going to use either bifenthrin or permethrine and an IGR aka insect growth regulator because that’s the only thing that kills the larvae which is what causes the problem I hope this helps. It might take a few times so buy enough to keep on hand.

    • My research seems to indicate that by the time we feel the itching, the bugs have already gone. A lot of people confuse scabies and chiggers too, it seems. I always have people telling me to “put nail polish on them.” I tell you what; since we have moved to a different apartment, and we don’t play by those same bushes, no more bites. I really can’t tell you what you’re experiencing, obviously, but I would think the only way you would maintain an infestation IN a house is if you had plants (?) That is not to say if you manage to spray the permathine (isn’t that whay they use in flea medication for pets?) on the offending grass and plants outside as you treat the home that it would not help . But it is no surprise no one can “see” the bugs. For one, they are usually too small to see, and for a second, they are likely no longer there once you are inside and scratching like crazy. They are like mosquitos in that the damage is already done and the bug is gone. lol
      Good luck with your infestation!

      • With all due respect. I have been researching chiggers, harvest mites, red bugs, whatever you want to call them since 2009. If you or someone you know has been exposed to these things and you unknowingly bring them into your house. They are setting up house in your house and creating what we call hot spots. If you start to feel the bites they’ve been in your house 2 days laying eggs. I’ve been researching these. since 2009 with the Missouri Department of Agriculture and Dr. Diccialone (probably spelled wrong) head of the entomology department of the university of Rhode Island and an exterminator who is familiar with them .So I’m no slouch when it comes to these things. The picture of the ankle you have posted is how I react. So I had to learn more about this then I care to know. I’m also an R.N and I’m able to recognize most parasitic skin conditions. People mistake them for bed bugs because they’re active at night. They start around dusk and get worse as it gets later because they are attracted to higher carbon dioxide levels (as are bedbugs) which happens when we sleep. We put out more carbon dioxide. At least bedbugs have the courtesy of injecting an anesthetic so we don’t feel the initial bite (most people don’t) . The information I’ve posted is accurate if you have a hot spot in your house the only way to rid of them is 1.identify the source and stay away (if you can) 2.exterminate the house (everything) with bifenthrin or permethrine and an insect growth regulators a.k.a IGR’s. Take all things made of material to a commercial laundry mat and throw them in a dryer on the highest temp possible. Spray your house, rugs, empty drawers, everything you can cuz guess what? They’ve been moving around and dropping off someone, everywhere. It’s alot of work because these things are proliferate and hard to kill. In the meantime, if you have to wait until you can afford to buy the proper materials you can use 100 percent deet 3-4 times daily on your skin and spray 100 percent alcohol from a mist bottle on suspected hotshots. All science, baby.No voodoo tricks like eating garlic, rubbing garlic (we are not dealing with vampires) rubbing dryer sheets all over your body. These things are the worst pests I’ve ever had the displeasure of knowing. They can cause secondary illnesses, anxiety, depression (from lack of sleep and just not knowing what they are) serious skin infections. So I apologize if I sound arrogant or pedantic. I just want people who don’t know what is going on with them to know. Btw, out of curiosity how did you happen to come upon the subject .signed” Not trying to sound like an ass”. Joanne

      • I also wanted to comment on the fact that you were fortunate to identify your source( the bushes) but you also moved to another apartment. Some of us have not identified the source. It could be someone who comes to see me, the grass on either side of the walkway to my apartment The tree outside my apartment window . I know it’s not my niece’s dog because I haven’t been near him since we figured that he was the source in 2009. I had my sister come over the other day. The one who is also very sensitive. Just for an experiment. I had her just stand in my living-room ( if you can call it that. I live in a studio) . You know that crawly feeling you mentioned? Within a few minutes she had that feeling. She apologized but said “I’ve got to get out of here. You’ve got chiggers”.coincidentally we are both uncontrolled diabetics (as is my niece) but in 7 years of on and off research I have never been able to make a connection. This is also an apology for coming off as an arrogant, pedantic, douchebag. I need all the emotional support I can get while I’m waiting to be able to buy the pesticides I need. I wish I was tech savvy enough to post a picture of what my skin looks like now. The same as that foot and ankle except it’s my back,arms and legs cuz my hotspots are my bed and couch. I’m taking double sleeping pills at night and the exterminator my landlord has brought in 3 times doesn’t have a clue. So I’m taking pics of my skin. I’m going to exterminate myself. Submit the receipts and insist on reimbursement. I might not get it but I’ll give it a shot

        • LIke I said, chiggers (real chiggers, not what some people mistakenly call chiggers) are not inside bugs (cited some other sources for that in the comments as well…) Only the nymphs bite. The adults eat plants, so even chiggers that make it inside will not survive long if they are not eating, and then once they become adultsm shouldn’t be biting people. If you have no plants inside, the chiggers will die. I also don’t want to sound argumentative or pedantic, and I’m not an expert on bugs, but I know what I read and even provides the links to some of it. I don’t know what you’ve been reading, or where your research has come from, but from what I’ve* personally read, what you describe doesn’t sound like chiggers. At any rate, whether it’s chiggers or something else, hopefully whatever you use to exterminate (permethrin or whatever) will kill a wide variety bugs and you will find some peace. I do know how awful it is to feel “crawly” and not be able to do anything about it. Good luck.

          • I’m not familiar with Clover mites. This is the first time I’ve ever heard the name. I’m going to check them out. Thank you. It’s been a very tough couple of months with no sleep and the horrible skin irritation. It’s 1:40 am in Boston and I’m still awake (ran out of sleeping pills cuz I was doubling up) . People think I’m crazy. I sometimes think I’m crazy. The bites are so prevalent but nobody can see a bug or even a piece of dust(o.c.d. about cleanliness) . I have no plants but as I said before there is a tree that hangs so close to my window if there wasn’t a screen the branches would be hanging right over my bed. ( it’s been closed since I started to experience ” that crawly feeling”. I live in the Boston area. I’m not even suppose to know about these things never mind dealing with a second infestation in seven years. But it’s a feeling you never forget. Thanks for the response and the new information. I’m going to check out Clover mites right now. Respectfully “still need alot of support “, Joanne

          • I know, it’s maddening! I actually have OCD too so it’s easy for the real feeling of itching to quickly become something to obsess over for me. I think bugs and infestations are emotionally like something that touches on a fear that is deep for many of us, sort of a body horror thing. Let me know what comes of the extermination or whatever you decide to do.

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